How We Say Sex

Are we portraying good sex with bad imagery?

Have you ever noticed how most if not all of the words we love to use to describe sex—the act, not the chromosomal pairing you are born with—all seem to refer to either violence and ingestion? Bang, nail, hammer, pound, tap, knock, knocked up, eat out, smoke, stuff, screw, blow, beat off, whack off, pork, lady killer, man-eater—and these are only the handful I could think of while I was pumping (there’s another one!) gas the other day. I realize that we are a culture that loves war and loves to eat, but why do we insist on using both of these concepts to frame our sex lives when, really, intercourse literally has nothing to do with either one of them?

What about sex lights up a neon flashing sign in our hypothalami that reads “War & Eats” when sex, if I may be so bold, is truly significant enough that it deserves its own separate cache of synonyms that don’t borrow from the occasions when we’re feeling aggressive, threatened, or hungry? For one, describing sex with either digestive or combative terminology comes with a deleterious tone that, when you put your mind to it, is so disturbing you’ll probably want to keep your pants on. In hopes of grossing you out by making you consider these terms, herewith I want you to consider the unsavory suggestion carried by a few of these terms.

For instance: bang. After you return from Thanksgiving, you might call up a friend to see how the holiday went and he might confide, “Oh, you’ll never believe this! I linked up with my old college girlfriend and guess what—I totally banged her!”

Without question, one of the universally accepted applications of the word “bang” applies to guns.  Your local class of toddlers won’t lie to you, they’ll confidently tell you, “Guns go bang.” Hell, “bang” is even the sound we make when we we extend our index finger and thumb to imitate a gun being fired.

Other instances: you bang your shin against the coffee table, banging pots and pans, banged your car right into the guard rail. Within any of these uses, along with the gun metaphor, there persists the notion of force being used, ranging from explosive to disfiguring (if not encapsulating everything on that range) and that isn’t perhaps the kind of activity you want to convey to your listeners when you share the lurid details of your sex life. For certain, you probably don’t want to express yourself in such a way that depicts your sex partner as the recipient of a literal bang, either from guns or from frying pans.

Anticipating some dissent, I will say what some of you might be thinking, that the word “bang” is appropriate here because you and your sex partner are banging your pelvic regions against each other. Fair enough, if you want to persist on describing your sex life as if its a clumsy, off-beat percussion of random body parts, fine, but you might want to inform your present and/or future sex partners that this is how you think of intercourse with them just so they’ll have a chance to find the fire exits as soon as possible.

Even within this literal interpretation of banging pelvic regions together, there’s hardly any “together” in this. Most of the time, all the banging is being done by the man so, really, the sex begins to sound a little less fun and a little more violent. A man banging against a woman as if she’s a punching bag or a shooting target, not really the most romantic of scenarios I can imagine.

Here’s a rather unctuous description of copulation you hear sometimes: pork. “They got caught porking in the theatre parking lot.” This can never nor should ever be said in a boastful or applauding way. No, this substitute for intercourse should only ever come off the bench if you’re intentionally trying to describe somebody’s sex life in the most unflattering and nauseating of ways. You practically have to wipe the spittle and grease off of you after hearing some awful story about somebody porking.

Something peculiar about porking: somewhere around the 1900s, women began being referred to as pork whenever spoken of as a sexual object. Later in the century, sometimes in the ’60s, for reasons I will not begin to fathom, our endlessly creative society began to pass around the phrase “pork sword.” You wanna take a guess as to what part of the male anatomy this delightful phrase might refer to. Imagine overhearing some guy in the bathroom, “Verily, I housed my pork sword within her sheath last night.” Puke. Puke, puke, puke.

However, a decade later, because for some reason every previous day in the 20th century passed without a consensus of people agreeing that affixing pig products to the act of sex is entirely unsexy, Americans adopted “pork” as a stand-in for “sex.” Now, we’ve finally come full circle: women referred to pork, men stabbing women with their pork swords, thus the act of porking.

What a charming language we have shaped for ourselves.

Really, I love bacon as much as the next person—it’s my favorite food group—but unless you have a farm fetish that requires special sexual attention, all use of “pork” as a synonym for “sex” needs to stay as far away from the act of sex as possible.

One more, and this is a great one: knocked up.

Pregnancy. Birth. Children. Family. For a society that strangely favors all of these things, saying that the trajectory of a future human’s life started when his or her mother got knocked up is a fairly jarring way to put it. You knock people out, you knock one out of the park, knock something over, you knock on doors—all of these things you knock require a substantial amount of force. Why then is one of the most persistent descriptions of pregnancy related to this disruptive act of force?

My complaint with this phrase is that it essentially suggests that pregnancy is something done to a woman’s body by an outward force and she just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The way people use this phrase, you’d think they were describing a crime scene where the woman was pushed in front of a bus. Simple as this, “knocked up” is misogynistic and it suggests violence against women, but with this society’s history of violence against women I’m not altogether surprised that this phrase is one of our most common and favorite ways to describe a pregnancy.

Not only is this a violent phrase, but it’s an identity-robbing phrase. Saying a woman is knocked up robs her of any ownership in her pregnancy because it suggests this was something done to her by some external brute force. She can’t knock herself up, she gets knocked up. How’d she get knocked up? Oh, she got banged.

Or she banged somebody. This is another point I want to make because, as I’m sure some of you have noticed, you’ll hear women use words like “bang” or “nail” when they’re talking about their sex lives. While it might be slightly subversive for a woman to use these words when describing their supremacy in the power dynamic of sex, that doesn’t diminish any of the violent imagery associated with these words. That both men or women might use these hungry or angry words to describe sex doesn’t exactly make the slang any less offensive.

I know what some of you must be thinking right now. “Oh, these are just words, nobody actually thinks all of that stuff when they say these things.” I’ll grant you this, you are correct, nobody thinks of any of these rough, destructive connotations whenever they use words like “bang” or “knocked up.” They don’t think about any of this because aggressive, even violent speech to describe sex are so widely used without hesitation that the terms have become normalized and that, to me, is the most disturbing fact of all.

Here’s a test. Imagine you’re talking to a highly intelligent being who, through some kind of holiday miracle, has never heard of any of this sex slang. This person has only referred to the act of intercourse exactly as that: intercourse. Now imagine describing to this person the story that led to Charlie banging his coworker last weekend. What do you think our holy fool is going to imagine when you say this, when you get to the part about how Charlie banged his coworker? Our ignorant friend certainly isn’t going to imagine something as delightful as sex, I’ll bet you that. Instead, such a description will likely conjure up the image of our friend going Jason X on the lovely coworker by zipping her up in a sleeping bag and banging her against the base of a tree for half an hour.

Finally, I don’t think anybody out there can justify the use of these troublesome synonyms for sex by arguing that these words are fun or creative ways to describe sex. Really, if you want to be funny and creative with how you talk about sex, why are you using all of the same words that everybody else is using? That’s not creative. At all. When some dude talks about how he nailed a woman he works with, I hate to break it to you but he’s not serving as a medium for the spirit of Lord Byron when he chose to describe their fornication as “nailed.” More realistically, he was channeling the thoughts of the neighbor’s schnauzer.

No, nothing that’s said by anybody is “just words,” and with an entire world of language readily available for us to use when describing sex, why are we so fixated on sticking to the ones with bad intentions? Choose from some of the more benign terms already out there or go for broke and make up some new ones. Who knows, you might just get lucky and end up contributing to our culture’s vast vocabulary of ways to exclaim how you got laid.


Read more of The Good Word on The Good Life.

Image credits: gina pina,  ToastyKen /Flickr

About Drew Bowling

Drew Bowling is a writer, erstwhile photographer, and highly decorated factotum living somewhere in the United States. His writing lingers on language, gender, mental health, and occasional raves about outer space. Keep up with his fancy musings over on Twitter.


  1. Let me be frank like a hot dog and say that this essay made me want to knock you out and make your girlfriend come. I also agree with you. I also know that my wife doesn’t like misogyny in any form OR foreplay. People can enjoy, even prefer effing etc more than ‘making love’ without being unhealthy. Maybe I just feel a little teased because the essay didn’t provide much in the way of sexy alternatives, but no conspiracy made sex antagonistic. Sex is antagonistic because it isn’t sexy to say what we want, yet everyone wants different types of sex at different times. That’s frustrating. If you are sexually active you will be sexually frustrated at some time or another. Frustrated. Angry. Hungry.

  2. You read my mind entirely. Thank you for posting an article that finally exposes the violent nature of these words.

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